Caracas, February 17, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan authorities arrested 55 employees of the Abastos Bicentenario state supermarket chain Monday in the initial phase of a new anti-corruption operation aimed at the government-run food distribution network.
Codenamed “Attack on the Weevil”, the operation saw the mobilization of 965 National Intelligence and Military Counter-Intelligence officials targeting 53 supermarkets across 13 states and the capital district in an early morning raid.
“They have no excuse for betraying the public trust, and we are going to go after every last corrupt official that we find in each sector, the economic, political, social,” declared Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez, who is heading the operation.
The dozens arrested– including six store managers– have been accused of hoarding state subsidized goods and reselling them on the black market for personal gain in a speculative practice known as bachaqueo.
Authorities also confiscated extensive caches of hoarded food items, including 6.7 tonnes of corn flour, 10 tonnes of sugar, 864 kilos of pasta, and 840 kilos of margarine in one Caracas supermarket alone.
The raid follows on heels of the high-profile arrest of three top state food officials two weeks ago on charges of embezzlement, including former Abastos Bicentenario president Barbara Gonzalez.
The anti-corruption operation comes at a moment when soaring inflation and speculation by private retailers has made many everyday products increasingly inaccessible for many Venezuelans who have come to regard Abastos Bicentenario and other government food programs as an indispensable life-line.
In the face of the deepening economic crisis, the Bolivarian government has pledged to ramp up its anti-corruption efforts, promising to open an anonymous hotline for citizens to call and denounce instances of misconduct on the part of state officials.
“Whoever threatens the just distribution of the people’s essential products will be discovered and will pay for his or her crimes,” added Lopez.